“Sexting” generally refers to sending nude pictures or sexually explicit pictures over text message.  Some people may use the term more broadly to refer to text conversations of a sexual nature, and some may expand the term to refer to conversations through other mediums like chat or direct messaging on social media.  Generally, sexting is not a crime between consenting adults, but there are plenty of possible illegal acts related to sexting for adults – and especially for minors.  For help with any charges related to sexting or to learn more about whether “sexting” is legal in your case, call the Atlantic City criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of John J. Zarych.

Is Sexting a Crime for Adults?

Usually, the law does not limit consenting adults from being able to participate in whatever sexual or romantic endeavors they want to participate in.  This generally means that sending nude or lewd pictures to your spouse, significant other, dating partner, or romantic interest is perfectly legal if both of you are over 18 and both of you consent to send and receive the pictures.  Beyond that, however, there are potential legal problems you could run into.

If the recipient does not consent to the sexting, the conversation could become harassment in New Jersey.  Sending someone nude photos without their consent, whether they are photos of you or someone else, could amount to harassment, which is a crime in New Jersey.  Under N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-4, repeated communications that cause annoyance or alarm are illegal.  If these are sent over online channels, the communications could become cyber-harassment under N.J.S.A. § 2C:33-4.1, which carries harsher penalties.  Additionally, stealing nude photos could be a crime under various laws depending on how the theft was accomplished, potentially including hacking charges.

Exposing yourself to someone without their consent could also be considered “lewdness” under N.J.S.A. § 2C:14-4.  This is New Jersey’s indecent exposure statute and could apply to sending nude pictures of one’s genitalia to anyone who does not consent.  If you send nude pictures to someone under 13 or someone with mental disabilities, this crime’s penalties are enhanced.

Sometimes people will share photos they received with other people who were not the intended recipients.  This could include showing someone the photo on your phone, sending them the photo, or even posting it publicly on “revenge porn” sites.  Posting lewd photos of someone with the goal of emotionally harming them or putting them in fear of physical harm is also cyber-harassment under § 2C:33-4.1.

While sexting is legal between consenting adults, it is not legal between an adult and a minor.  The age of consent is generally considered 18, though some exceptions do allow sex with people aged 16 or older.  However, possession of nude or compromising photos of someone under 18 is illegal, even if they took the picture themselves or consented to them being taken.  Possession of these photos could be considered possession of child pornography.  Distributing the photo to someone else is the distribution of child pornography – a more serious crime.

Is Sexting Illegal for Minors?

Many of the same potential crimes also apply to minors who engage in sexting.  Sending pictures to someone without their consent could be construed as harassment or cyber-harassment, posting or sharing photos of someone else online could be cyber-harassment, and sending someone a picture of yourself without their consent could be indecent exposure.  Minors have a secondary concern, however, because any nude or indecent pictures of them could be considered child pornography.  This could result in juvenile charges for possession of child pornography.

For a minor to receive a nude photo of another minor could be considered possession of child pornography.  Even for a dating couple under 18 where both parties consent to taking and seeing the photos, possession of the photos is a serious crime under N.J.S.A. § 2C:24-4.  This code section is called “endangering welfare of children.”  While charges are typically filed against adults, other minors with photos of nude minors could also be charged and convicted under this statute.

Distributing nude photos of a minor is a more serious offense than merely possessing them.  This means that if a minor receives a nude photo from a classmate or a dating partner and then shares that photo with others, they could be arrested and convicted of distributing child pornography.

Where this law can get absurd is in its application to the person who took the photo.  A minor taking a photo of themselves could be charged and convicted of possession of child pornography, even if the photo in question is a photo of themselves.  Similarly, sending this photo to someone else by “sexting” could be considered distribution of child pornography.

When charging defendants for possession of child pornography, prosecutors may count the total number of photos and increase charges depending on that count.  Any videos are typically counted as 10 photos.  This could mean that even short clips or GIFs could quickly add up to a high count of pieces of child pornography, potentially leading to serious charges.  Again, these charges can absurdly apply even to a minor sending pictures of themselves.

Call Our New Jersey Criminal Defense Lawyers for a Free Legal Consultation

It is vital to talk to a criminal defense attorney if you have been accused of a crime for sexting activities in New Jersey.  Many of the charges for adults sending pictures to other adults could result in fines or jail time.  Any sexting activities involving minors could be charged as extremely serious criminal offenses that could include prison time and registration as a sex offender.  For help with your case, call the Law Offices of John J. Zarych today to schedule a free legal consultation.  Our phone number is 609-616-4956.